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The Texas Exes’ Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program


Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program

If Texas is like a whole other country, then the Rio Grande Valley, nestled on the Mexico border some 350 miles south of the capital, is a whole other realm within that country. For those young Texans from the Valley” who choose to attend The University of Texas at Austin, the journey can be world changing, both for themselves and their families.

UT Austin appreciates the essential role the Rio Grande Valley plays in contributing to the best student body possible, one with a diverse mix reflecting the state’s growing and varied population. Valley residents support this goal as well, but know that finances can stand in the way of even their highest achievers. That is why community leaders there teamed with the Texas Exes to bring top students from the region to the state’s flagship public university.

Some partnerships just make sense.

The Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program is grounded in community collaboration and the pursuit of academic excellence. The program awards annual $10,000 scholarships to exceptional students from the region, enabling them to complete an undergraduate degree at UT Austin. University friends and alumni from the Valley are involved in all phases of the program, from donating funds and nominating and interviewing applicants to providing mentoring and networking support for student recipients once they arrive on the campus.

Generous individuals, corporations, and foundations established an endowment in 2011 with the goal of $600,000 to support the RGV Scholars Program in perpetuity. Thanks to strong support from the community, that goal has now been achieved.

Alejandra Guerrero, Christine Nott, Brenden McDonough, and Michael Garcia

The first four RGV Scholars are, from left, Alejandra Guerrero, Christine Nott, Brenden McDonough, and Michael Garcia.

The five students selected as Rio Grande Valley Scholars since the program began represent the very best of the Valley. Alejandra Guerrero is from Roma, and Christine Nott is from Harlingen, while Brenden McDonough and Marla Zarate both hail from Rancho Viejo. Stephen “Michael” Garcia is from Brownsville.

Notwithstanding their shared background, they are an eclectic group with their own goals and interests. Still, they support each other as Valley peers, and especially act as mentors for each year’s new freshman scholar.

Alejandra, the inaugural RGV Scholar, is completing her undergraduate studies in biochemistry and textiles, two disciplines within the College of Natural Sciences, and is considering pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture or ecology.

Christine is seeking a bachelor of science and arts in nutrition and is part of the interdisciplinary Health Science Honors Program. She is also a peer counselor with UT’s Student Judicial Services. Brenden, a double major in the prestigious Business Honors Program and accounting, had a summer internship with KPMG in Houston. Michael, a biology major who plans to be a neuroscientist, enjoys playing trumpet in the Longhorn Band.

Prior to the attainment of the $600,000 endowment goal, Alejandra’s and Christine’s scholarships were funded by an anonymous donation and by the Raul Tijerina Jr. Foundation, respectively, while the Brownsville Community Foundation provided a challenge grant that made Michael’s scholarship possible.

Marla Zarate, the newest RGV scholar, met UT President Greg Fenves at the Texas Exes’ 2016 Rio Grande Valley Student Send-Off in Brownsville.

Marla Zarate, the newest RGV Scholar, met UT President Greg Fenves at the Texas Exes’ 2016 Rio Grande Valley Student Send-Off in Brownsville.

Marla, the most recent RGV Scholar to land on campus, is majoring in business while on the pre-med track. The first recipient of the Elizabeth “Lisa” M. Garcia Rio Grande Valley Scholarship, she plans to one day open her own practice and focus on genetic research.

“I am beyond grateful and blessed to have received the Lisa Garcia RGV Scholarship,” she says.

Able to attend the university of her dreams without having to worry about significant debt after graduation, Marla can immerse herself in what matters most — learning and gaining new perspectives that will ultimately prepare her to be a leader in the community she loves.

“I cannot thank all the supporters and donors enough for making this possible and giving me this wonderful opportunity,” she says. “There is so much talent in the Rio Grande Valley, and scholarships like this allow amazing students to get out of their comfort zones and strive for greatness. I am proud to be the inaugural recipient of the scholarship in Lisa’s name, and I hope to continue her legacy on the Forty Acres.”

How you can help

The Texas Exes’ Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program makes a premier college education possible for some of the Valley’s most deserving students. The program offers renewable annual awards to Valley residents who demonstrate financial need and excellence in academics, leadership, and community service. Scholars are chosen by alumni and friends who are community leaders from the upper, mid-, and lower Rio Grande Valley.

Make a Gift to UTWould you like to contribute to the endowment that permanently supports the Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program? So far, nearly 300 donors have. Your gift will allow the program to have an even larger impact on deserving Valley students. As a donor, you can be involved in nominating and interviewing applicants, as well as providing vital mentoring and networking support for the recipients.

Lisa Garcia

One of the RGV Scholarships is named in memory of Lisa Garcia, who died in 2013.

RGV endowment naming opportunities

Valley native Lisa Garcia, BBA ’87, was a successful and dynamic attorney with a strong history of dedicated public service. She was a passionate alumna of UT Austin, serving on its Development Board and on the selection committee for the RGV Scholars Program. Upon her untimely passing in 2013, Lisa’s friends and family came together to raise $200,000 to name one of the three RGV Scholarships in her memory.

The Elizabeth “Lisa” M. Garcia Rio Grande Valley Scholarship was awarded for the first time in the 2016-17 academic year, with freshman Marla Zarate selected as the inaugural recipient.

You can endow an additional RGV Scholarship of your own, forever linking your name, or that of a family member or friend, to scholarly excellence at the university while making it possible for the program to fund more students. The University Development Office’s Wendy Anderson would be happy to assist you. Click on her name to email, or give her a call at 512-232-2300.

You may also wish to consider a recurring or sustaining monthly donation, which will provide ongoing support to bring the best Valley students to UT. With a recurring gift, you can pay out a pledge over a selected number of months or years. A sustaining gift will repeat monthly or yearly until you decide to stop it.

Visit the online giving form and select “Recurring Gift” or “Sustaining Gift,” or call 800-687-4602 to set up your gift by phone.